Wednesday, Dec 31, 2003
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By B. Muralidhar Reddy
Gen. Musharraf's keenness to become an elected President is evident from the speed at which he moved in the last few days to seal a pact with the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), an alliance of six religious parties, on his controversial amendments to the Constitution as well as his continuation in the Army.
As part of the deal, he has agreed to step down as Army Chief by December 31, 2004 and dilute some of the powers he had bestowed upon himself.
In a record time of six days, the Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali Government not only gave shape to a Constitution Amendment Bill but also managed to get it adopted by the National Assembly and the Senate. The Bill would now be sent to Gen. Musharraf for his assent.
Indications are that he would not waste any time in ensuring that it becomes part of the Constitution.
Political observers believe that the deal with the MMA on several contentious issues, including the military uniform, would not have been possible but for Gen. Musharraf's earnestness and it is linked to the SAARC Summit. After all, dispute between the Government and the Opposition on these very issues had paralysed Parliament for over a year.Gen. Musharraf was deemed to have been elected as President for a period of five years through a controversial referendum held in April 2002.
It was rejected by all political parties as unconstitutional. Under the current deal, the MMA has agreed to abstain in Parliament and the State Assemblies when the motion for the endorsement of the Presidency comes up for voting. Only a simple majority is needed for its adoption and the ruling combine is hopeful of managing it without any difficulty.
It appears that due to security considerations, Gen. Musharraf has decided not to travel to the State capitals to appeal to the legislators to vote on the Presidential motion. On Monday, he met legislative members of the ruling combine from the Balochistan and Sindh provinces. Today, he is likely to meet members from North West Frontier Province and Punjab.
At a function to mark the 50th anniversary of the All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS) here last night, Gen. Musharraf chose to elaborate on the reasons that prompted him to strike a compromise with the religious alliance. He referred to the agreement on the Legal Framework Order and said although the nation had voted for him in the Presidential referendum he had shown `flexibility' in the interest of democracy and Pakistan.
He expressed the hope that after an agreement on seven points of the LFO, those receiving instructions from abroad and putting obstacles in the way of democracy would now conduct proceedings in a democratic manner so that the world perceived Pakistan as a respectable and responsible democratic country. The reference obviously was to the parties headed by two former Prime Ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.
A section of the Pakistani press and civil society is not impressed with the arguments advanced by Gen. Musharraf and believes that marginalisation of mainstream political forces does not augur well for the country particularly when it faced challenges from fundamentalists.
Gen. Musharraf also referred to the action taken against extremists in the tribal areas some time ago and said Pakistan would not allow any extremists to misuse its territory. However, he regretted that a section of the Press did not report factually on the action against extremists. He said the Pakistan Army was the greatest organisation for the nation and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) was a great national institution that worked in accordance with national interests.
He asserted that Pakistan was fully safeguarding its national interests, asserting that nobody was asking the country to roll back its nuclear programme or compromise on Kashmir. "There is no pressure whatsoever on me to roll back the nuclear and missile programme. We are not rolling back, there is no question, these are our national interests and only a traitor will think of rolling back," he said.
Pakistan, he said, was a declared nuclear power and had nuclear assets and a missile programme. Dismissing the impression of "sell out" on Kashmir as completely unfounded and regrettable, Gen. Musharraf said the Kashmir dispute was in the limelight and "now, we need to move forward towards a peaceful resolution of the issue. Nobody is asking me to give up on Kashmir."
He expressed the hope that there would be movement towards the resolution of all issues including Kashmir between India and Pakistan during the SAARC conference.
Gen. Musharraf maintained that there was absolutely no split in the top military leadership and all corps commanders were with him. He rejected the impression to the contrary as utterly false.
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